Chaplains & Gay Marriage

So a recent link was posted about Nancy Pelosi and a lack of a provision to protect chaplains from having to perform gay marriages.  The comments then got into what exactly a chaplain does or doesn’t do, and what rites/rituals they perform for members of their command.

First of all, a chaplain ministers to his or her unit, regardless of the religious belief of either the chaplain or the soldier.  What this means in practice is that I minister to the needs of my soldiers, whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, etc.  There are many ways to minister – counseling, enduring hardships, conducting services, and so on.  Most of them do not involve discussing my religious beliefs, and I always ask what the soldier’s religious background is before I bring mine to bear on the topic at hand.

That said, I would not be qualified to conduct last rites for a Catholic soldier who was dying – rather, I would make every effort to have a priest available who could do so.  Same goes for a Muslim or a Jew — I’m simply not qualified to perform their rituals, nor am I trained to do so.  If a qualified person *wasn’t* available, I would do whatever I could within the limits of *my* faith to provide comfort and ease their transition from this life.

In regards to this whole marriage thing, I think it’s really a non-issue. I mean, chaplains can’t be forced to marry *anyone* – gay or not.  My commander can’t (and certainly wouldn’t) give me an order to conduct a marriage ceremony for a soldier.  I know many chaplains who require couples who wish to get married to go through pre-marital counseling first; if they can’t/won’t/don’t then they refuse to perform the ceremony.  If the couple wants to get married that badly on their own, they can go to the justice of the peace.

Whether or not the bill expressly allows a chaplain an “out” in regards to gay marriage, a chaplain’s role is already clearly stated in AR 165-1, Ch. 3-2, para. b. To wit:

(5) Chaplain participation in marriage preparations and ceremonies is in keeping with individual conscience and distinctive faith requirements.

(6) Chaplains will not be required to perform a religious role in…other events if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith.  Chaplains will make every effort to provide for required ministrations which they cannot personally perform.

Another thing to keep in mind here is that chaplains don’t just serve the military services – they are responsible (and accountable) to their endorsing agency.  So for me, I am endorsed by the Baptist General Conference – if my conduct were to fall afoul of their doctrine, they could pull my military endorsement.  Were that to happen, I would be kicked out of the military because I could no longer function as a chaplain.  So to push this gay marriage thing on chaplains would result in several potential outcomes:

– The various services simply ignore the lack of “protection” and allow their chaplains to continue to perform – or not perform – marriages according to the dictates of their faith and in accordance with current Army/Navy/Air Force doctrine.

– The services require chaplains to perform gay marriages which are contrary to many chaplain’s beliefs, and the chaplains refuse to do so, resulting in either the resignation or court-martial of the chaplain for failure to obey a lawful order.  End result: the chaplain is kicked out of the military.

– The services require chaplains to perform gay marriages which are contrary to many chaplain’s beliefs, and the and the chaplain bows to the pressure and performs the services, resulting in their credentials being pulled by their respective endorsing agency.  End result: the chaplain is kicked out of the military.

So I see this whole Nancy Pelosi thing as a red herring designed to boost her credibility with her gay constituency while having no real impact on the military services in general and on chaplains in particular.  The vast, vast majority of chaplains I’ve met in my 23 years in the military are from predominantly conservative Protestant or Catholic traditions.  Most of them excel at what they do, and their commanders recognize the value they bring to their units.  I can’t imagine that any battalion, brigade or division commander would want to deal with the flak (not to mention the decrease in morale) that would inevitably result from firing a string of chaplains whose sole transgression is that they refused to compromise their religious beliefs by performing a gay marriage.

12 thoughts on “Chaplains & Gay Marriage”

  1. THAT was incredibly well put. My headgear is off to you chaplain. Got a couple of Navy Chaplain who are great friends and your writing makes me worry a little less for them. Now what to do for the Wiccans and Rastafarians (and I’m neither but they are recognized by the Army and I suspect the sister services. Regards

  2. Sir, I suspect they are prepping a tentative plan to throw the Chaplain Corps
    “under the bus”. Either in part, or in its entirety, whichever is most useful to
    their intent to pander.

    The most awe-inspiring Chaplain I knew was a Mustang Officer originally
    from Third Ranger Batt. He went on patrols with us regularly, carrying a
    Bible big enough to kill a man if dropped from a roof.

    I know for certain that nancy would not like him one bit . . .

    But I would drop a house from Kansas on her before she had a chance to
    throw the Ranger Padre under the bus.

  3. Thanks for the upgrade. It looks like this section is an effort to codify existing protections at a higher level than regulation.

    It sounds to me that Pelosi is simply pandering to her constituents in the Castro district.

  4. There will be fire storm when a Chaplain preaches on sexual immorality in the hearing of some flaming queer. When that happens, the diversity types will be all over it and the Chaplain Corps may be thrown under the bus at that time. I doubt we are far from it.

    1. I seriously doubt it. Chaplains have unlimited free speech when it comes to matters of faith and when they are preaching to their own congregations – people who have chosen to come and listen to them, in other words. If you don’t like what Chaps is saying, don’t go. Problem solved.

      They might try something with regards to getting anti-homosexual preaching classified as “hate speech,” but recent court cases have nearly always ruled in favor of “protected speech,” even if it is disagreeable or offensive to others. Look at “Reverend” Fred Phelps and his fellow Westboro Baptist nutjobs – they engage in the most heinous speech possible, yet they aren’t arrested for such.

  5. The Grunt Padre

    THIS is what chaplains do —

    Father Capodanno requested a new assignment–as a United States Navy Chaplain serving with the U.S. Marines. After finishing officer candidate’s school, Father Capodanno reported to the 7th Marines, in Vietnam, in 1966. When his tour was complete, he requested an extension, served in the naval hospital and then reported to the 5th Marines.
    He gained a reputation for always being there–for always taking care of his Marines.
    At 4:30 am, September 4th, 1967 , in the Thang Binh District of the Que-Son Valley, elements of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines found the large North Vietnamese Unit, approx. 2500 men, near the village of Dong Son. Operation Swift was underway. The out-numbered and disorganized Company D was in need of reinforcements. By 9:14 am, twenty-six Marines were confirmed dead. The situation was in doubt and another Company of Marines was committed to the battle. At 9:25 am, the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Commander requested assistance of two company’s of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, “M”and “K” Company.
    During those early hours, Chaplain Capodanno received word of the battle taking place. He sat in on the morning briefing at the 3rd Battalion’s Combat Operations Center. He took notes and listened to the radio reports coming in. As the elements of Company “M” and “K” prepared to load the helicopters. “Fr.Vince” requested to go with them. His Marines needed him. “It’s not going to be easy” he stated. As Company “M” approached the small village of Chau Lam, the North Vietnamese opened up on the 2nd Platoon, which was caught on a small knoll, out in the open. The fighting was fierce, hand to hand at times, and the platoon was in danger of being overrun. Father Capodanno went among the wounded and dying, giving last rites and taking care of his Marines. Wounded once in the face and suffering another wound that almost severed his hand, Father Capodanno moved to help a wounded corpsman only yards from an enemy machinegun. Father Capodanno died taking care of one of his men.
    On December 27, 1968, then Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius notified the Capodanno family that Fr. Vincent would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his selfless sacrifice. The offical ceremony was held January 7, 1969.
    Several chapels and an US Navy fast frigate were named in his honor.
    On May 21, 2006, thirty-nine years after his death on the battlefield of Vietnam, Capodanno was publicly declared Servant of God, the first step towards canonization.

    1. There is another chaplain, a Captain Emil Kapaun, who has been declared Servant of God. He stayed behind with the wounded of 8th Cavalry near Unsan and allowed himself to be captured in November 1950. He carried one of the wounded soldiers to keep him from being shot. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

  6. Interesting side note on Catholic doctrine, Padre. A priest is NOT required to offer Last Rights. In extremis, a Catholic may offer his final confession to whoever is at hand (Catholic preferred, but anyone allowed). And if no one else is around (you’re dying alone) then you can confess directly. Last Rights (or Annointing of the Sick) is preferred, but only the last confession is “required”. At least that’s my memory from CCD lo those many years ago.

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